GDR meets… The Dandy Lab

Aug 01, 2016

Last summer, interactive retail store The Dandy Lab opened in London’s Spitalfields Market. The cutting-edge menswear store explored original strategies for the customer journey in physical retail, as well as retail technology innovations. Now that its first experimental store has closed, GDR Innovation Researcher Lamorna Byford met co-founder Peter Jeun Ho Tsang to discuss The Dandy Lab’s key findings and to try and discover more about their next, top-secret project… 

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What did you learn from the Spitalfields store?

“We learned a lot. Any technologies that weren’t part of the natural purchasing journey were a struggle to get customers to engage with. Interactive mannequins for example, didn’t really work. Things like the loyalty card and the payment app, on the other hand, did really well in the store. That was the biggest take out for me. In order for tech to be successful in a physical retail space, it had to be integrated into the customer journey but also frictionless. We can’t ask our customers to do too much.

We had interactive screens and RFID tags that customers use to find out more about the products. It actually didn’t go down that well, with only a 2% take up in the store. There was just too much friction for the customer, so what we’ll be doing in the next store is trying to think through the components, not just the tech, that make the customer journey as frictionless as possible.

The example of technology that worked really well was the mobile payment app, Mishi Pay. We were the first people to use the app in the UK and that was great. We worked with Mustafah, the founder of Mishi Pay, to help him realise what the context and utility of the app was in a retail setting. That had about a 40% uptake with our customers, who were spending up to 20 minutes downloading it from our Wi-Fi in store. As a totally new app, there were obviously going to be bugs and it was interesting to see how we could iron those out based on our experiences in the store.

We also had RFID loyalty cards, which went down really well too. We gave our top 200 customers a store card. When they returned to the store, their card would send a message to the store assistants on their iPads or computers. It would send them all of the information we had about the customer i.e. ‘Peter is back in the store. Last time he looked at X and Y products, he spent x amount of time in the store and his shoe size is that’, which let us deliver very personalised service. In this case it really wasn’t about tech in your face. It was there in the background to allow us to deliver a better shopping service. It didn’t require any effort from the customer and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of that in the new project.”

What can you tell us about your new project?

“We’re going to be supporting smaller designers within a retail space again and there’ll be a whole load of new mechanisms within the project. We’ll be operating on 50,000 square feet on the Camden Market site. That instantly tells us that the data set we’re going to be gaining will be so much richer than in our last store – this is 50 times bigger.

Again, we’ll be going along similar veins thinking about the customer journey, retail tech and what the future of fashion retail will be. We’re considering what the department stores of the future are going to look like, what tech will be involved, both front end and back end, and how AI can improve stores. Our store will be powered by the data we get from the market itself. That’s as far as I can go in terms of telling you what it is, but if you visited us at the Spitalfields store, it’ll be fairly similar but much, much bigger.

One of the differences is that the Spitalfields store was focussed on a specific demographic, price point and product [menswear]. This project will incorporate a lot of different areas within fashion. We thought a lot of the tech we deployed at the smaller store would work in a boutique setting as opposed to a big store, and it was quite controlled in that regard. Obviously, in the new store, there are so many more variables – it’ll be interesting to see how they all play out.”

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Dandy LabCamden Market is a really iconic retail destination. What made you choose the market as the location for your next project?

“They approached us actually, off the back of the Spitalfields store. They had been into the store and knew what we were doing. They came to us three or four months ago with the project and asked if we wanted to do it and we jumped at the chance.

As you said, the market is iconic. It gets 28 million visitors a year, which will clearly ensure we develop really interesting, rich data – especially because the visitors to Camden are from all over the world. We’ll be thinking about how that affects consumer behaviour and whether people from different parts of the world engage differently with different types of tech. Is it true that Europeans aren’t as tech savvy as their Asian counterparts, for example? And, if so, how does that affect their consumer behaviour?”

There are a lot of big brands running labs and researching innovation. Do you feel there is any advantage to being a small, independent organisation?

“Definitely. We looked at the big brands and decided they had what we call the ‘innovation fear factor’. A lot of the retailers that we speak to don’t want to be the first to try new things or they try things on such a small scale that it’s hard to measure the impact. The beauty of our store was that it was agile, it was temporary and we could change it reactively as and when, working in collaboration with the tech companies.”

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